We must promote love and friendship across the divide: Punjab governor

Shahab Jafry
Filed on November 8, 2019 | Last updated on November 8, 2019 at 05.15 pm
Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammed Sarwar.

Founded in 1504, Kartarpur is where Guru Nanak established the first Sikh community on the banks of the River Ravi.

With the formal opening of the Kartarpur Corridor due on November 9, just days ahead of the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev - the founder of Sikh religion - on November 12, the responsibility of making sure all arrangements are in place falls to Punjab Governor Chaudhry Mohammed Sarwar.

When Prime Minister Imran Khan gave Governor Sarwar the additional portfolio of head of the Religious Tourism and Cultural Heritage Committee earlier this year, the idea, broadly, was to promote religious tourism in the country, given that this region has been a melting pot of numerous religions and cultures over the centuries.
But his main, most pressing assignment was making sure that the Kartarpur Corridor was ready for inauguration by November 9.

"It was indeed a great challenge to complete all the work in a matter of months, since normally it would have required two-to-three years," Chaudhry Sarwar told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview at the historic Governor's House on Lahore's Mall Road.

"Yet Prime Minister Imran Khan was confident about realising this vision, all stakeholders were on board, and at the end of the day we proved that where there is a will there is a way."

Founded in 1504, Kartarpur is where Guru Nanak established the first Sikh community on the banks of the River Ravi. Following his death in 1539, the site assumed a special significance for the Sikh community.

In the seven decades since Partition of sub-continent in 1947, however, the community (particularly Indian residents) faced numerous restrictions in visiting the site, with barely a few dozens able to pay their respects every year.

Now, after November 9, the site will be able to host, house, and feed more than 5,000 pilgrims every day. That is why Sikh devotees from across the world have started descending on Lahore in anticipation of the historic day; showering the governor, especially, with gratitude because of his personal role in the project.

Chaudhry Sarwar felt particularly honoured when Sikh visitors invited him to instal a 'palki' made of gold at the temple on Monday, a throwback to the time when the revered 15th/16th century saint, Mian Mir (a Muslim), laid the foundations at the Golden Temple, also known as Sri Harmandir Sahib, in Amritsar.

"It was a very humbling experience; I was moved and I really appreciate their gesture."

The Sikh community is understandably very happy about Kartarpur, but they also urged that authorities make sure the site's heritage is protected, particularly the agriculture land around it, the governor explained.

"So we made sure, throughout the process, that all stakeholders especially the Sikh representatives agreed with every phase of the renovation and expansion."

He also said, categorically, that no cut was made in the land reserved for the Gurdwara Darbar Sahib Kartarpur. "Actually, 42 acres have been allocated for the Gurdwara and another 62 acres for cultivation," he added.

And, in a historic move, the government has waived requirements for passport, visa and advance registration for the opening.

"We must appreciate the reality of life, especially for poor people," Sarwar said. "We understand that most people eager to visit will not even have passports, etc, so we went the extra mile to facilitate all segments."

We have after all, the governor stressed, lived together for centuries in this subcontinent. Therefore we must exploit every opportunity to promote love and friendship across the divide.

Chaudhry Sarwar firmly believes, just like Prime Minister Khan, that this corridor will go a long way in restoring peace between Pakistan and India.

"Many people had doubts but I was always confident about this project despite the recent chill in Pakistan-India relations," he said, "because religious sentiments evoke passions that just cannot be sabotaged". And once the two governments see the power of such confidence-building measures, they will no doubt understand that peace is the only option for these two countries.

Along with Kartarpur, the resting place of Guru Nanak, the government has also renovated his birthplace, Nankana Sahib, about a hundred kilometres west of Lahore.

But this was slightly more difficult because while Kartarpur is surrounded by farmland, which made expansion work easy, Nankana Sahib is not. So the government had to shift a college, which occupied four acres and was situated adjacent to the Gurdwara, outside the city.

"In just three months, on war footing, we constructed a corridor from the railway station to the Gurdwara so devotees are spared the agony of negotiating narrow, crowded streets."

The governor was particularly impressed that nobody from either community, Kartarpur or Nankana, objected to any suggestion that the government made; from buying/selling land to shifting the college.

"We are very grateful that people cooperated with the government to such an extent, otherwise it might not have been possible to meet this tight deadline," he added.

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